Do you have dense breasts?
When Carey Newton entered her 40s, she did what many women do – she scheduled her first mammogram.
Not expecting anything to come of the screening, Newton scheduled her appointment, had her mammogram done at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill., just after her 41st birthday in June and was initially told everything looked fine.
Soon after, however, the care team called her back and said her mammogram showed that she had dense breasts. They recommended she schedule a whole breast ultrasound at Advocate Condell just to be sure the original mammogram had not missed anything, as dense breast tissue can make tumors difficult to spot.
Since 2011, Advocate hospitals, including Advocate Condell and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., made it a point to offer additional tests, such as 3D mammography and whole breast ultrasound among others to patients who have dense breasts to ensure they’re doing everything possible to spot cancer in its early stages.
“In dense breast tissue patients, the breast tissue appears white on a mammogram, which causes the radiologist to see a white-out on the image,” says Dr. Nila Alsheik, chair of Breast Imaging at Advocate Health Care and co-medical director of the Caldwell Breast Center at the Center for Advanced Care at Advocate Lutheran General. “It can be hard to see cancer through this white tissue, which is why we continue to offer additional screening options, such as whole breast ultrasound in patients with dense breast tissue.”
Newton was hesitant to schedule a follow up initially, but the care team continued to call. Eventually, she scheduled her ultrasound for November 2017, and to say she’s glad she did would be an understatement.
It turns out the whole breast ultrasound saved her life. Dr. Alsheik says the ultrasound revealed a nodule that required further testing, which was not apparent on the initial mammogram. Following the ultrasound, Newton went to Advocate Lutheran General for an MRI and biopsy and met with Dr. Anna Katz, a breast surgeon, who confirmed that Newton had Stage I breast cancer.
“I thought, I’m 41. This can’t be real,” says Newton.
The diagnosis came as a shock to Newton. She was young, genetic testing showed she did not carry the breast cancer gene, she couldn’t feel the lump herself until she knew where it was upon diagnosis and the original mammogram did not catch the tumor.
As unnerving as the diagnosis was, Newton says she’s relieved it was caught early.
“Think about it – if they hadn’t sent me for the dense breast tissue screening, I would not have gotten another mammogram until my 42nd birthday in June. The doctors said it could have been stage three by then,” says Newton.
In January, Newton underwent an oncoplastic lumpectomy at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill, which Dr. Katz says allowed them to save Newton’s breasts while optimizing her cosmetic result. From when she was diagnosed in November until the surgery, the tumor had grown from 1 centimeter to 1.7 centimeters. Dr. Katz removed the tumor as well as a cyst that had developed on Newton’s right breast.
“There is no survival difference between saving your breast (lumpectomy) or removing the entire breast (mastectomy), so we always like to try to save the breast. Sometimes a lumpectomy will leave dead space or a defect in the breast. By utilizing an oncoplastic approach with a concurrent reduction/mastopexy, we get rid of the dead space and leave a cosmetically excellent result,” says Dr. Katz.
Newton says she’s not one to go to the doctor unless she must, and she appreciates how kind and compassionate the doctors and nurses were across the Advocate sites when it came to coordinating her care.
“Any time we asked a question, it was answered correctly, honestly and without hesitation. Going into the surgery, we had everything we needed to be feel comfortable,” says Newton, whose mother and friend were by her side during the whole process.
“I’m really lucky,” says Newton. “I had the best possible scenario because they caught it early.”
Our Breast Health Assessment estimates your five-year and lifetime risks of developing breast cancer.
About the Author
Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.